Motorsport: Super battle for V8 title

By James Phelps

Jamie Whincup is looking to close the gap at the top of the V8 Supercars championship. Photo / Getty Images
Jamie Whincup is looking to close the gap at the top of the V8 Supercars championship. Photo / Getty Images

The closest V8 Supercars championship in history will be decided on the streets of Sydney next month - with an unprecedented nine drivers having a mathematical chance of taking out the sport's biggest prize at the year-ending Sydney 500.

A classic Ford vs Holden decider looms with the revolutionary "Car of the Future" programme levelling the field to create a thrilling finale that has the legends of the sport - Mark Skaife, Jim Richards and Dick Johnson - at odds when it comes to predicting the champion after the Phillip Island 360 this week and the Sydney 500 on December 6-8.

"This is the closest championship in Australian motorsport history," said Skaife. "There are 600 points up for grabs over the last two race meetings. Six points from a total of 2549 separate first [Craig Lowndes] from second [Jamie Whincup]. That is 0.0023 per cent. That is just staggering. One bad day or one good day could make or break you."

While nine drivers are a theoretical chance of winning the title (including Kiwis Fabian Coulthard and Shane Van Gisbergen), the trio say forget the complicated calculations because this year's champion will be one of Whincup, Lowndes, Mark Winterbottom or Will Davison.

Jamie Whincup (Red Bull Racing Australia)

Prediction: 1st

Skaife and Richards predict Whincup will win a record-equalling fifth championship. While the Holden driver trails team-mate Lowndes by six points, both Skaife and Richards think Whincup's qualifying ability will see him become a legend of the sport by winning his third consecutive title. Whincup is the fastest driver in the field and the duo claim that he will not crack under pressure despite suggestions he is faltering because of the blowtorch being applied by Ford's Winterbottom.

"You need to stay out of trouble and be up the front at this time of the year and his qualifying ability will ensure he is where he needs to be. Jamie will give himself the best opportunity through qualifying," said Skaife.

Richards has no doubt Whincup will equal Skaife and Johnson's record haul of five titles this year: "He is as composed as they come. People are saying he is fragile but they said that last year and the year before. He is the man to beat."

Craig Lowndes (Red Bull Racing Australia)

Prediction: 2nd

Lowndes leads the championship and his desperation to win his first title since 1999 and emerge from the shadows of Whincup will be enough to drive him to his fourth title, said Johnson.

Lowndes has three titles but has not been able to string a season together since his days with the Holden Racing Team. He has a history of poor starts and strong finishes. This year he has done enough to be in front. Johnson said that, and his utter determination, will see him beat all.

"I just have a feeling that Jamie is faltering and I think the others want it more. Lowndes is a hungry bugger and he can smell the spoils. He is the underdog within the team and this is his chance to become top dog."

Skaife said: Don't ever write Craig off. But my issue with Chim is his qualifying. He hasn't been strong and I think Whincup will prevail because you need to be at the front of the field and stay out of trouble."

Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing)

Prediction: 3rd

The Bathurst winner is Ford's great hope. He scored a huge psychological blow over his rivals by winning Bathurst and has taunted Whincup in a bid to unsettle him. Winterbottom can beat anyone and everyone on his day but the team's speed is often ruined by mistakes - and the legends think that will ultimately see Winterbottom fail.

"He is a great driver and the team can be the quickest when they get it right," Johnson said. "But unfortunately they have a slip-up here and there and I think that will cost them in the end."

Skaife simply thinks Whincup is quicker: "I am so enthused by FPR's form. The right signs are there but take away all the fluff and all the talk and this sport is about speed. The quickest car and the quickest bloke will win - and that is Jamie Whincup."

Will Davison (Ford Performance Racing)

Prediction: 4th

Former championship runner-up Davison is back in fourth; he not only has to beat the Red Bull pair but also jump his own team-mate. Skaife thinks that is impossible given he is walking out on the team at the end of the year to drive a Mercedes.

"Let's be honest, we are at the business end of the year and he has signed for another team. His team-mate is in front of him and I don't think he will be getting any favours given that he is leaving and Mark is staying. I don't think he will be getting great service."

- Sunday Telegraph

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